Sunday, July 19, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009 Sixth Sunday after Trinity Matthew 5:17-26
Don't think that I came to do away with the Law or the Prophets? I didn't come to do away with, on the contrary, to fulfill. Amen, for I say to you, until heaven & earth pass away, one iota or one stroke, no, it will not pass away from the Law, until everything comes to be. Whoever then breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches other men, "least" he will be called in the kingdom of heaven; and whoever does & teaches, this one will be called "great" in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness is abundant, more than the scribes and the Pharisees, no, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.You heard that it was said to the ancient ones, "you will not murder"; and whoever murders will be guilty in the court. And I Myself say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother, guilty he will be in the court; and whoever says to his brother, "empty-head" guilty he will be in the Sanhedrin; and whoever says "fool" guilty he will be into the hell of fire. If ever, then, you are presenting your gift upon the altar, and there, remember your brother has something against you, leave there your gift before the Altar and go; be reconciled to your brother, and then coming, you present your gift. Befriend your opponent quickly, while you are with him on the way, that your opponent not deliver to the Judge, to the officer, and into the prison you will be cast. Amen, I say to you, no, you will not come out of there, until you have given back the last coin.
Sometimes you come across a perplexing bible reading, and in today's Gospel, we sure have a doozy! First, Jesus seems to be making it easy to get into heaven. If you break one of the least of the commandments, or tempt others to do the same, you will be called *least* in the kingdom of heaven, but at least you are in, right? But then, Jesus says that your righteousness has to surpass that of the most moral and ethical folks of His day, the scribes & Pharisees, or you won't even get into heaven.
So what gives? Can you just not worry if you commit lesser sins, and hope God lets you slide, grading on the curve to let you squeak by into heaven? Or should you be striving, struggling, and stretching yourself to be even more pious than the church leaders of Jesus' day, lest you get shut out of paradise completely? How holy does your life have to be for you to be considered worthy of life in heaven? Just exactly how much righteousness is *enough* to get you eternal life?
To figure this out, we must take Jesus at His word, and take His word quite seriously. Have you ever called anybody a name in anger? You are guilty before God.Have you ever hurt someone, not bothering to go apologize so that you can be reconciled? You are guilty before God. Have you ever lusted for someone not your husband/wife? You are guilty before God. Have you ever gone to church as a hypocrite, putting your offering in the plate as if nothing is wrong. You are guilty before God.
It is clear that our own, personal righteousness is far from the moral, ethical standards of the Pharisees. Even if it were that good, Jesus makes it plain that it still would not be enough. Even St. Paul, the Pharisee other Pharisees looked up to, knew that his own righteousness was nothing but dung. For all human righteousness is but filthy rags before God. All the philosophical ethics & morals earn nothing before the Lord. For the true righteousness of which Jesus speaks, isn't of the Law.
True, saving righteousness isn't from human works of obeying the Law, but from God's works of Gospel love! That is why Jesus says that He came to *fulfill* the Law. He, as God, could keep the commandments you fail to obey. He was holy, perfect, completely righteous in all he thought, said, and did. Jesus is your saving righteousness, the only holiness to which you can look, and hope to be saved. Christ's righteousness far exceeds any human goodness, because His is holy and perfect!
You desperately need Jesus' righteousness for your salvation, for without it, you cannot even enter the kingdom of heaven. You need more than forgiveness, which removes your sinful unrighteousness from you. You also need the gift of Christ's righteousness, credited to your account by faith. In Holy Baptism, your sins were washed from you directly to Jesus, at the +, where He became your sin. In blessed exchange, you become His holy righteousness, all Jesus' goodness now yours forevermore!
Have you broken the least of God's commandments? Indeed we all have. But that need not exclude you from paradise, for Jesus succeeded where you failed, keeping God's Law fully, in your place, and taking your place at the +, giving His body & shedding His blood for you there. For He is the One called *Great* in the kingdom of Heaven; He is your abundant righteousness, for your life eternal. . .